Thursday, March 27, 2014

Venezuela's Slide Towards Dictatorship - and Colombia's Complicity

Maria Corina Machado.
Maria Corina Machado is a Venezuelan national assemblywoman and fiery opponent of that nation's 'socialist' government.

Or, at least she was an assemblywoman until a few days ago. That was when Machado, in an attempt to publicize the government's widespread abuses of human rights and free speech, accepted a speaking slot from a Panamanian representative in an Organization of American States meeting. As it turned out, Machado did not get to say much. Venezuela used parliamentary maneuvers to suppress her, and Venezuela's allies - more accurately called satellites and receivers of petroleum handouts - shouted her down.

Nevertheless, Venezuela's National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello decided that Machado's actions meant that she had 'accepted a government post' from Panama, and Cabello announced that Machado was ousted from the Assembly and stripped of her parliamentary immunity.

No matter that nobody else equates accepting a speaking slot with holding a government post, nor that Venezuela's Constitution doesn't give the Assembly president the power to unseat deputies by fiat. But Venezuela's 'Bolivarian' rulers have long wanted Machado shut up and preferably in prison. They have accused her of rebellion and complicity in the killings which have occurred during recent anti-government protests. But, like the three military officers arrested the other day on charges of planning a coup, the government has offered little evidence against Machado, whose most evident 'crime' is being an outspoken critic of chavismo.

For Venezuela's Bolivarian government, it's all part of a pattern. Another prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, is being held prisoner on a military base, also on dubious charges and in apparent violation of the constitution. And the government has progressively restricted the opposition press and made the legislature and courts rubber stamps for the president's orders.

This is the definition of an authoritarian tyrrany: A government which makes decisions by fiat, without feeling a need to supply evidence, nor bother with the mechanisms of independent courts or parliament.

Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín visited Venezuela this week and met with government officials and opposition leaders. But her ministry did no more than issue a non-judgmental wish that violence would end. Colombia does not want to strain relations or lose Venezuelan cooperation for the peace talks in Havana. (You can be sure that if people were protesting and dying in the streets of Bogotá, Venezuelan leaders would be denouncing Colombia as a 'fascist state' and 'puppet of the empire.')

Lopez, the imprisoned government opponent, wrote a letter to the New York Times blasting "the shameful silence from many of Venezuela’s neighbors in Latin America...To be silent is to be complicit in the downward spiral of Venezuela’s political system, economy and society, not to mention in the continued misery of millions."

He could say the same about the United States, which remains addicted to Venezuelan oil.

As long as other nations fear taking a stand for civil liberties in Venezuela, Venezuelan leaders will feel little need to respect basic democratic values.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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